Renaming The Langevin Bridge as Reconciliation Bridge
On Monday, January 23, 2017, Mayor Nenshi championed a notice of motion to rename The Langevin Bridge as The Reconciliation Bridge. Above is his speech in Council introducing the topic and answering questions. Click here to view the notice of motion.
Below are some of the notes on which his speech was based.
For the past few years, I’ve been beginning every speech with a Blackfoot greeting which translates as “Hello, my relations.”
While this greeting is a simple gesture, I believe it’s a powerful symbol. This is exactly what we’re discussing here today--a gesture that, we hope, will be the beginning of something bigger.
Calgary lies on ancient land--traditional land of the Treaty 7 people, and of the Metis Nation of Alberta Region 3, and the home of Urban Indigenous peoples.
The Langevin Bridge stands near the confluence of our two great rivers. It is at this confluence where people, for thousands of years, have lived, loved, and thrived. This has been a meeting place for many cultures for an untold number of years. This place holds significant meaning in Calgary’s story.
We are in a time of reconciliation, forging new relationships between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Canadians, and we are doing so through the guidance and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. The TRC’s final report summary points to principles adopted by the United Nations which outline that the state has a duty to remember.
It says, “A people’s knowledge of the history of its oppression is part of its heritage and, as such, must be preserved by appropriate measures in fulfillment of the State’s duty to remember.... On a collective basis, symbolic measures intended to provide moral reparation, such as formal public recognition by the State of its responsibility, or official declarations aimed at restoring victims’ dignity, commemorative ceremonies, naming of public thoroughfares or the erection of monuments, help to discharge the duty of remembrance.”
Through those recommendations, the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee created the White Goose Flying Report, which is a beautifully written report that every Calgarian should read.
Amongst the many recommendations made in White Goose Flying, CAUAC suggested “For The City of Calgary to consider re-naming the bridge to a name that signifies building communities rather than dismantling them is a powerful symbol of mutual respect for the future.”
The Langevin Bridge was, as we know, named for Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, the Minister of Public Works at the time who authorized the funding for the first bridge’s construction in 1888.
Langevin was one of the Fathers of Confederation, and he was almost certainly the first federal cabinet minister to visit the Town of Calgary. There is no doubt that Langevin made significant contributions to Canada, but he also played a foundational role in the establishment of the residential school system.
Renaming the bridge is not about vilifying one person in our country’s history, nor is it about washing over our past. Our history is more complicated than that.
In fact, the argument has been made to change the name before. Almost 100 years ago to the day, The Albertan, which later became the Calgary Sun, published an editorial on January 22, 1917 arguing that because the bridge built by Langevin’s department in 1888 was demolished, there was no need to name the 1910 replacement bridge after him.
As my friend Harry “the Historian” Sanders has said, history is not static. This moment in time is no less significant than the moment the bridge was built. We are at a point in time that also deserves a place in our history.
This renaming is also intended to spark a discussion. As the TRC summary states: “Reshaping national history is a public process, one that happens through discussion, sharing, and commemoration. As Canadians gather in public spaces to share their memories, beliefs, and ideas about the past with others, our collective understanding of the present and future is formed.”
The symbolism of this bridge is, in my opinion, the perfect way to begin the discussion in our community about reconciliation.
I am truly grateful for the thoughtful conversations that have led to this notice of motion. I’m grateful for the leadership of members of Council, the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Advisory Committee and Treaty 7 traditional knowledge keepers who have helped to shape this idea. I’d also like to recognize Harry Sanders for providing for valuable context and background.
I’m also thankful that, as a community and as a nation, we are at a point in time where we are not only willing to have this conversation – we know it’s necessary. This is not about erasing the past, it’s about building a hopeful future, together.